VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Thousand of kids across the world have happy, healthy smiles thanks to an international organization.
This year, Operation Smile is celebrating their 30th anniversary and to celebrate, they went on a mission trip to Naga, Philippines, where their work first started.
Two local students went along on the trip say it changed their lives forever.
After seeing countless pictures of kids with facial deformities and hearing their stories, Eva Miller and Maddie Mitchum immediately wanted to get involved with Operation Smile.
"It hit your heart really hard," Mitchum said. "It makes you want to get involved because you want to help them."
"There are children that are like eight to 10 years old," Miller said. "They aren't able to talk because of the cleft palates and lips."
After fundraising for Operation Smile started at their schools, the two girls volunteered to go on the mission trip to the Philippines.
"Our main purpose was to educate," Miller said. " We taught the kids how to brush their teeth. We taught them burn care prevention and oral re-hydration."
Miller told WAVY.com kids with facial deformities are outcasts in the Philippines and shunned in their community. A lot of the girls' volunteer work focused on building up the self esteem of younger patients.
Miller and Mitchum also got the opportunity to watch surgeons perform facial surgeries. It was there they saw just how much people appreciated their work.
"This one mom was extremely grateful and hugged me," Mitchum said. "It was nice to know I really did changed this girl's life. Even though the little girl couldn't hear and she couldn't talk, she was the happiest girl I've ever met."
Both girls say volunteering for Operation Smile is an experience they will never forget. Miller now says she wants to be a doctor and Mitchum wants to be a nurse. Both want to continue touching the lives of children around the world.
"Meeting these children they had no friends, and becoming friends with them that was really special," said Miller.
"I have a better outlook on life now. Everything I have I am very, very grateful. And knowing that I changed these kids' lives makes me feel better inside," Mitchum said.
The girls had to attend leadership conferences and go through hours of training before going on the trip.
Miller attends Norfolk Academy and Mitchum attends Prince Anne High School. Both schools have Operation Smile clubs that allow kids to raise funds for the organization.
Operation Smile has broken ground on a brand new facility set to open next year in Virginia Beach.
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